By Bridget Lloyd, on behalf of the RamCompare team
With 18,500 lambs recorded over four years, RamCompare is one of the UK’s largest and most high profile sheep research projects.
Established to find the most profitable terminal sires for UK lamb production, data is collected on nine partner farms – with a series of on-farm events explaining the role of genetics in ram selection delivered across the UK this summer.
Each year we receive over 200 ram nominations from which we select a team of 65-70 new sires. The project has now tested 276 rams from 11 breeds, Beltex joined the project in 2017 and to date four artificial insemination (AI) sires have been used. Progeny are assessed throughout their life, with abattoir data used to generate estimated breeding values (EBVs) for carcase weight, conformation, fat class and most recently, days to slaughter.
Signet’s Terminal Sire Evaluations are now completed on a monthly basis, with RamCompare data relating to lamb growth rate and ultrasound scanning feeding directly into the analysis; updating the EBVs of selected rams and their relatives.
EBVs for abattoir-derived traits are updated annually, with tables showing the leading breeding lines available at the start of the ram selling season. The latest results can be found at www.ramcompare.com
Abattoir activity remains a vital part of our data collection and is improving our understanding of the relationship between measurements taken on the live animal (eight-week weight, scan weight, ultrasound muscle and fat depth) and those collected when lambs are slaughtered; the traits on which farmers are paid.
Each year, 12 lambs are selected from each progeny group to assess primal yield and tenderness. The EBVS generated from this data highlight our ability to change the yield of meat within the carcase and our ability to enhance tenderness.
Highlights for the Beltex breed
The RamCompare assessment of carcase traits has moved towards a weight-adjusted basis that more accurately reflects the yield of meat from an animal relative to its size. We feel this change aligns better to the breeding objectives of Beltex breeders than the previous approach, which adjusted for age. We hope this will help Beltex breeders to feel more confident in embracing performance recording and would be keen to see more rams nominated for use within the project.
Over the last two years around 200 Beltex-sired lambs have been recorded from three sires:
- Dooley Sparky, used over two seasons, placed within the leading rams for Carcase Conformation EBV in the 2018 results
- Dooley Sparky was provided by Matt Prince, the first pedigree breeder to support RamCompare with three different breeds; Suffolk, Texel and now Beltex
- Corstane Knot-Out, provided by Mary Dunlop, with Airyolland Hunter and Airyolland Galahad in his breeding, featured as the top ram across all breeds with his Carcase Conformation EBV in both the 2018 results and for the combined results
- Clary Number One, provided by Mary Dunlop, with Clary Muscleman and Viagrow V/D Drie Musschen in his breeding, placed sixth for Carcase Conformation EBV across all breeds in the 2018 results and highly in the combined results over the years
- Cynin Count Down is a new ram provided by Matt Prince who will be on test next season
What have we learnt and what do we want to know?
The project has done a great job of enhancing our understanding of traits measured on farm and at the abattoir, highlighting which on-farm traits are good indicators of value to the commercial producer and which carcase attributes may be better assessed directly using CT scanning or abattoir data.
The project clearly shows the variation seen in the value of sires. Extra value worth £3-£5 per lamb – or £600-£800 per sire is commonly seen on farms, with the overall RamCompare breeding index doing a great job in highlighting the highest value animals.
RamCompare extension for a further five years
We are hopeful levy funding will enable the project to continue for a further five years. This will widen the project to use abattoir data from a greater range of sources and develop our ability to highlight the most valuable rams, based on a combined understanding of their on-farm performance, CT measurements and commercial progeny performance. Please support us with your ram nominations for both natural service sires and artificial insemination sires in the New Year.
For more information please go to www.ramcompare.com